Tikkun olam, the Jewish value of “repairing the world,” is a dynamic daily reality in Israel. If you’re planning a visit and want to see tikkun olam in action, the choices are plentiful.

“Tourists more and more are looking to experience Israel and not just see it,” says Alisa Bodner of LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible. “Outings that highlight values that are expressed in Israeli society and that include encounters with the people of Israel are the experiences that are most meaningful. This is what tourists will keep with them long after their trip is over.”

Our 10 suggestions for social tourism offered here include a mix of tours and volunteer opportunities. For more information about ecotourism  and voluntourism in Israel, click the links to ISRAEL21c’s past stories on these topics, or visit websites such as Ruach Tova (“Good Spirit”), Skilled Volunteers for IsraelDestination Israel  and GoEco.

1. Commune with accessible nature

The Lewis family of Chicago sets out on the accessible trail with guide Raz Rutman. Photo courtesy of LOTEM
The Lewis family of Chicago sets out on the accessible trail with guide Raz Rutman. Photo courtesy of LOTEM

The nonprofit organization LOTEM  offers visitors a look at inclusion in Israel through guided hikes in the KKL-JNF Nahal HaShofet Nature Park, Israel’s first fully accessible circular hiking trail. The forest walks — led by LOTEM volunteers with special needs or soldier-guides, and often including Israelis with special needs — go through streams, an accessible cave and wooded areas, ending at LOTEM’s ecological farm in Emek HaShalom. Activities there include making grape juice in the only wheelchair-accessible wine press in the world and baking pita bread with hand-picked herbs from the sensory garden. Details: lotem@jnf.org, 347-236-3262 (US), 972-50-263-4332 (Israel)

2. Assist the elderly

Melabev day clubs for seniors with memory loss welcome volunteers able to commit to three to five mornings over two weeks. Tasks include assisting members in discussion groups, art, music, dance, movement, cooking and baking. Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh locations cater to English-speaking clients. Information: Naomi, 972-52-720-3039

3. Serve the hungry

Volunteers at Hazon Yeshaya soup kitchen in Jerusalem. Photo by Lara Savage/FLASH90
Volunteers at Hazon Yeshaya soup kitchen in Jerusalem. Photo by Lara Savage/FLASH90

Several soup kitchens throughout Israel welcome foreign volunteers to plate and serve. To arrange a morning at one of 30 Meir Panim  locations throughout the country, call 877-736-6283 or email volunteer@meirpanim.org.

The Carmei Ha’Ir  soup kitchen near Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda marketplace operates like a restaurant where clients pay whatever they can. Volunteers must be at least 18 unless they’re part of a family. The site welcomes up to six volunteers per shift. Information: 972-2-500-4222, Info@carmeihair.org.il.

4. Put a smile on a disabled child’s face

ALEH  residences in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Gedera and the Negev together care for some 650 Israeli children and young adults with severe disabilities. Groups from abroad may book an orientation session and then spend an hour to 90 minutes assisting staff in the classroom with activities such as music, art, therapy or games. Participants, who must be at least 18 years old, then receive a tour of the facility. Information: Dov, dov@ALEH-israel.org

5. Pack for the poor 

Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charitable organization, runs a program called Pantry Packers – a 90-minute opportunity for overseas tourists aged 4-80 to pack rice, beans and other staples for inclusion in large food baskets for poor families throughout Israel. At the Pantry Packers facility in Jerusalem, tourists are given a brief orientation session before donning gloves, aprons and caps to fill bags bearing a sticker with the name of the packing group. Information: info@pantrypackers.org, 972-2-626-0035.

6. Hike and help

Livnot U’Lehibanot  (Hebrew for “To Build and Be Built”) provides two- to six-week hiking and community volunteering programs for young Jewish adults, ages 21-30, in Safed (Tzfat). Opportunities include renovating apartments of the disabled or disadvantaged, creating green spaces; and working in food/clothing banks, an absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants, a senior living center or a child development center. Information: 561-409-3923 (North America) or 972-4-697-0311 (Israel).

7. Tour an internationally renowned youth village

Yemin Orde Youth Village  welcomes hundreds of visitors from around the world each year to join the staff and children from 20 different countries for lunch and a tour of the sprawling campus in the Carmel Forest region. Founded in 1953, the village houses and educates about 400 children from France, North Africa, Iran, India, Yemen, Eastern Europe and South America, who have all suffered from neglect, abandonment or extreme poverty. Yemin Orde has inspired projects from Rwandaʼs Agahozo Shalom Youth Village to Philadelphiaʼs Arise Academy. Information: 202-237-0286 (US) or info@yeminorde.org

8. Fill food baskets for terror victims

Every Thursday morning starting at 9:15 at 3 Yakim Street in Jerusalem, anyone can come and help pack produce and bread to go into weekly food baskets for Israelis unable to function normally after experiencing a terror attack. Leora Tedgi, herself a terror victim, founded Ohr Meir & Bracha Terror Victims Support Center in 2002 and is always there to tell visitors her story and show an informational video about the organization’s services.

9. Shalva

Students from Mexico meeting Yossi Samuels, the blind and deaf man for whom Shalva was founded. Photo: courtesy
Students from Mexico meeting Yossi Samuels, the blind and deaf man for whom Shalva was founded. Photo: courtesy

Weekly tours of the Jerusalem headquarters of Shalva demonstrate how this 25-year-old center has become a leader in the field of disability awareness and intervention in the Middle East. Founded by Kalman and Malki Samuels after their son Yossi became deaf and blind, Shalva (“peace of mind”) provides daily therapeutic programs for more than 500 participants with special needs, from birth to adulthood. On the tour, for two to 50 participants, visitors can meet Yossi Samuels and see innovative approaches that emphasize social interaction and integration, including the Shalva Band. Information: Jordana, community@shalva.org

10. Get to know Nazarenes

Guests at the Fauzi Azar Inn  in Nazareth have the opportunity to interact with the local community through activities such as helping at the hospital, teaching English or measuring out grain at a spice shop. “Our goal is for guests at the Fauzi to come into contact with every bit of Nazareth culture, life, food, and people,” according to founder Maoz Inon. Dining with a local family can be arranged. info@fauziazarinn.com